Listening to Your Body

Listen To Your Body | Harmony Yoga Redondo Hermosa Manhattan Beach ...

Your body has a lot to say and is in constant communication with you.  Whether or not you are listening is the issue.  From waking up in the morning feeling tired to craving certain foods to feeling sore; your body is trying to tell you what it needs in order to be at its best.  I am going to try to cover these various messages your body is giving you in as succinct a way as possible, because each message could be a blog post in itself.

Let’s start with cravings.  Cravings can indicate anything from you aren’t taking in enough calories to support your expenditure, to some type of memory has been triggered that is making you want a certain food, to your hormones being at work, just to name a few reasons.  To avoid turning this into a psychology and physiology paper as I explain the interplay of memory and hormones on food cravings, I will just be talking about taking in calories to meet expenditure.  When you are undereating your body wants to get in energy as fast as possible in order to refuel.  This is why we tend to reach for the bag of chips or the cookies because our bodies have learned we can get a lot of calories in very quickly and often it is pretty tasty.  Learning to take in the proper number of calories to support your daily life is very important.  Your goals determine how you should be eating; when looking to lose weight and get leaner you will need to take in calories at a deficit, when you are looking to put on mass and get bigger you will need to take in calories at a surplus, and when just looking to stay where you are and support your daily life you should be eating at a balance.  This equation doesn’t look the same for everyone though, it isn’t as simple as just eat less than what you expend to lose weight and eat more than you expend to gain weight.  Each person is different and will respond to diets in a different way.

Waking up in the morning feeling tired can indicate that your quality of sleep during the night wasn’t that great or that you are not getting enough sleep.  Getting enough sleep is an easier correction to make than trying to figure out how to improve sleep quality.  Having a daily schedule and bed-time routine helps make getting the proper number of hours of sleep a little easier.  If you know you are going to wake up at say 6am every day, and that you want to get 8 hours of sleep then you should be in bed and asleep by 10pm every night. In order to make that happen you should develop a bed-time routine that allows you to be in bed and asleep at 10pm.  This can look something like finishing dinner by 8:30pm every night, turning off the television and putting away other screens (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) by 9pm, having a book to read before you go to sleep, and maybe you have a white noise machine to help you fall asleep as well.  We as humans like structure, and by creating a routine for falling asleep it will help signal to your body over time that once ‘x,y,z’ happen you should be asleep.  Now waking up feeling tired due to poor sleep quality can be signs of not eating enough as well, having high levels of stress which causes your body to release cortisol outside the natural circadian rhythm, or you could have some illness present causing you to not get in a good sleep.  Depending on what the reason is for sleep quality determines what step you need to take next to improve the quality of sleep. (That is post for another time though)

Now to address being sore.  It is good to be sore because it means you have challenged your muscles enough be in a state of re-synthesis.  You worked out hard and now your muscles are repairing themselves.  It is not good to be so sore you can’t move every single day of the week.  Being in a constant state of muscle repair means that you never give your muscles a chance to fully recover and this can lend itself to injury.  Click here to read a previous post of mine on the benefits of resting and taking a day off from your training.

So, if you are reading this sentence, I am going to assume you clicked that link and read (or re-read s/o my loyal following) my previous blog post.  Taking a day off from anything is important to both physical and mental health.  You need to step back from whatever it is you do during the week in order to come back to it refreshed and excited to work at it again.  My fitness fanatics are probably thinking in their heads right now, but what about an active recovery day?  Yes, those are good but what are you calling active recovery?  For me an active recovery day is a leisurely walk or a casual bike ride.  It isn’t me jumping into the pool and swimming laps (no matter how slow I am going, swimming is actually a very interesting exercise modality when it comes to energy expenditure), or going for a long run, or going to the gym and doing accessory lifts.  Active recovery should be incredibly low impact compared to your weekly training.  There is nothing wrong with moving on an off day, but this movement shouldn’t be intense or high impact.  Off days are intended to be for taking your foot off the gas and giving your body the chance to recover and refresh.

This turned out to be longer than I intended, but the thoughts just kept flowing.  The sad part is I could have written even more, the science behind all of this are textbook chapters in exercise physiology.  What I want to be the takeaway here is listen to your body, it knows what it is saying and wants to support you as best as it can.  Taking a day off is fine, taking multiple days off is fine, you need to listen to what your body needs when it comes to rest.  Eat well and eat to support your goals, you get one chance and one body when it comes to living life, so live life well and treat your body right.

To Lift or Not to Lift?

The answer to that question is yes.  There are many benefits that come from resistance training.  The type of training you do depends on what you are looking to get out of the workout regimen you are doing.  Are you looking to improve your mile time or are you looking to put on muscle mass and see some muscular definition?

Endurance type athlete:

Lifting weights is still something that should be done.  The type of resistance training you do here should be muscular endurance training.  By strengthening your muscles so that you are able to perform multiple reps with little rest allows for lowered fatigability of your muscles.  Increasing time to fatigue will make running easier because your muscles will be able to perform at a desired intensity for a longer period of time.  It is also another way to add stress to your muscles and thus your bones without putting your joints through the same ranges of motions that you go through when running.  This can help alleviate some stress added to joints and allow for proper rest at these joints.

Looking to build muscle:

Yes, this is the perfect scenario to follow a resistance training program.  Depending on your training age and history with lifting weights, along with your goal will determine what training program you should follow.  If you are a novice resistance trained individual than you will see results quickly upon following just about any training program.  This is due to neurological adaptations that are occurring.  The more advanced you are in resistance training the more thought out the program you follow needs to be.  There needs to be progressive overload, programmed weight percentages of maximum and the proper rep scheme to allow you to reach your goal.

Outside of helping you reach your desired sport performance goals; resistance training can help you improve quality of life as you age.  Sarcopenia is a typical ‘side effect’ of aging, and results in muscle loss.  By performing resistance training exercises throughout the lifetime, you will slow the muscle loss due to aging.  Another ‘side effect’ of aging is decreased bone mineral density.  Once again resistance training to the rescue. Muscles originate and attach along various bones throughout the body.  By training muscles and putting stress on muscles through resistance training you are putting stress on your bones.  The added stress to bones, when done properly and with a knowledgeable strength coach/trainer, will make bones stronger and thus maintain a healthy bone mineral density.  Another benefit of resistance training is the metabolic cost associated with it.  When looking to lose weight, in particular burn fat, running is typically the first thought.  This thought is true, running allows for fat to be ‘burned’ during the run itself, but once the run is over that ‘fat burn session’ ends as well.  Resistance training on the other hand allows for ‘fat burn’ to occur well after the resistance training session has ended.  When lifting weights, you are breaking down muscle tissue in order to build it back up into a larger and/or stronger tissue.  This process is protein re-synthesis and can last up to 48 hours post resistance training bout (enter DOMS).  The re-synthesis is intensity dependent.  While your body is resynthesizing, it requires energy and thus has a metabolic cost, which in turn allows for ‘fat burn’ and consequently weight loss.

Basically, no matter what you want to do or what life-stage you are in, lifting weights is probably a good idea.  Improve your runs= lift some weights.  Grow muscles = lift weights.  Slow some down side effects of aging= lift weights.  Lose some weight/fat= lift weights.  When done properly and following a well-designed program, lifting weights is always a good choice.  Another thing to consider when lifting weights and seeing desired results is proper fueling, but that is a story for another time.  So get out there and pick up some heavy(-ish) stuff : )

Self-Experimentation #1

Hello friends.  Today I am sharing with you all my plant-based diet experience.  For starters, I did this to give myself some experience with this diet prior to conducting a possible study that asks participants to partake in a plant-based diet intervention for a 4-week time period.  I am an advocate of being your first client, especially when you are going to be asking someone to make a change to their lifestyle, you should be able to relate and pull from your own personal experience when looking to help someone else.  I also did this from a place of interest.  There has been increasing talk and ‘popularity’ when it comes to a plant-based diet, so being the nerd I am I wanted to see how I would respond to this dietary change.

So, for 2-weeks I went plant-based.  My shopping cart at the grocery store didn’t look all that different from my normal omnivore diet shopping cart.  The veggies, fruits, beans, and grains remained the same, the only difference was there were no eggs, cheeses, yogurts, or chicken to be found.  I also decided that I would be eating ad libitum (without restrictions).  This means I ate when I was hungry and did not track macronutrients or calories.  I felt this would reflect how many people who change from an omnivore diet to a plant-based diet make the change.  I did not purchase any plant-based protein powders because 1. I wasn’t tracking macronutrient intake, so hitting a protein goal wasn’t on my list, 2. This dietary change wasn’t one I planned on doing for more than 2-weeks due to things going on in my life, and 3. I prefer to get most of my food requirements from actual foods and I didn’t want to get a protein powder because I don’t want to use whatever I didn’t finish after I switched back from this plant-based diet.

I really didn’t feel any different in daily life or at the gym compared to when I was eating my omnivore diet.  I did actually feel a little more run down and would wake up some days feeling sick.  I also was feeling more sore than usual.  Some things that could account for how I felt beyond diet was the amount of stress I was feeling from school and work, poor sleep, and possibly not enough caloric intake compared to what was being burned throughout my day.  I will say that the day after I ended my 2-week experiment I woke up feeling like garbage, super congested and was waking up every hour that night to blow my nose because I couldn’t breathe.

I’m about 1 week back on my normal omnivore diet with macronutrient tracking and I am feeling much better than last week and like my muscles are recovering much better post exercise.  I am not sharing this to persuade people to eat a certain way, just merely sharing my personal experience.  Like I have said many times before diets aren’t one-size fits all, and what works better for me won’t necessarily work best for you or someone else.   This was not the most scientific experiment as I could have controlled for chance much better, but it was overall an interesting experiment.  I don’t think I will be removing animal-based foods from my diet anytime soon, especially with my current exercise goals, but I am glad I did this and stay tuned for my next nutritional self-experiment.

R&R

“Rest is for the weak” and  “No days off” are just two examples of some things you may hear from your fitness fanatic friends or your rat-racing buddies.  We unfortunately live in a society of go, go, go, and always trying to do more than the next person or not stopping until we reach our goal, only to decide we have another goal once we get there. We are constantly moving and doing and we are not taking a chance to stop and enjoy where we are.  I want to keep this more geared toward physical rest and recovery by talking about taking a day off from your gym routine, but before I head there I want to share a message that the commencement speaker at my graduation ceremony shared with us.  She has an amazing story and accomplished so much; when I heard of everything she has done my jaw dropped.  If you want to read more about this amazing woman follow this link here.  Beyond all the amazing things she has done with her life, she shared with us all that we need to take a minute to just breathe and to be present in the moment.  Enjoy where we are and the people we are with because the little things are what we will miss the most and the people we share these moments with will mean more than all the fame and fortune and success.

Okay now that I have shared that nugget of wisdom lets get into taking actual rest days from the gym or whatever exercise program you follow.  Exercise is a stressor, and your body responds to stress of any kind in the exact same way.  Your body doesn’t differentiate mental stress from emotional stress from physical stress, stress is stress.  The stress of exercise is a good stress to have in your life because it is acute, and once you finish your exercise for the day the stress goes away(that is when you aren’t in the state of overtraining, which can be avoided with a good ole rest day).  After exercise there are many changes that are occurring within your body.  Whether these changes are occurring at the muscle fibers, mitochondria, or neuroendocrine levels, your body is adapting to the exercise stimulus you have just placed on it.  Lets look at the muscle fiber changes from something like resistance training.  When you lift weights and then feel sore the next day or two, that is a result of your muscles physically (micro)tearing and your body working to repair the damage.  There was a study conducted that reported that muscle regeneration can take up 28 days to occur.  That is almost an entire month of your body working to repair muscle damage(the kind you want) from exercise.  So if your body can potentially be working to fully repair muscles back to 100% for 28 days after one day of exercise don’t you think you can give your body a break for one day?

I know it is hard when we live in a society that makes taking a day off seem like the end of the world.  If we aren’t going 1000mph everyday 24/7, 365 then we feel like we are going to fall behind or not be successful.  This way of thinking needs to stop.  I am not sure when it became such a bad thing to stop and enjoy a day of nothing and when tackling one task at a time became a rarity, but I think we as a society need to get back to that.  When Sundays(or whatever day you want) were for sleeping in, slow mornings, sipping coffee and enjoying breakfast with your family and filling the rest of your day with nothing or everything as long as its what you want to do.  I like to get to the gym 6 days a week and fill my Mondays-Fridays with anything and everything I can, but I know that once the weekend hits I’m taking my foot off the gas and putting myself in park come Sunday.  It is also important to listen to your body and familiarize yourself with how your body lets you know you need to pump the brakes.  For me I start to feel sick or waking up and staying awake becomes a lot more difficult.  It is okay to take multiple days off if your body is telling you it needs to rest.  Even changing your typical routine from long runs to yoga, or from pumping that iron to spin class.  Do something different to rest the muscles that are constantly being worked, while still getting a workout in.

Long story short, you are doing your body a disservice by not taking a day to relax and unwind.  Taking a day off isn’t the end of the world and you might actually be surprised how much you can accomplish on your off day and how much you enjoy having a structureless, plan free day.

Sleep!!

As promised, here is my post about the importance of sleep.  There are so many reasons why you need to get a sufficient amount of sleep every night.  Unfortunately there isn’t enough caffeine in the world to make up for lost sleep(trust me, I have tried to find that magic number of cups of coffee that would make me feel fully rested).

Sleep and your muscles.  While you enter deep sleep there is a gland in your brain, the pituitary gland, which releases growth hormone.  Growth hormone helps with tissue growth and repairs muscles.  If you don’t get the right amount of sleep, which has been said to be between 8-10 hours a night, you miss out on the benefits of growth hormone release.  It is very important for those of you who participate in strength and endurance trainings regularly to get closer to the 10 hours of sleep a night because your muscles are under a lot of strain very regularly.  When working to build muscle there is a tiny bit of muscle breakdown occurring, which is like a very small muscle tear, so extra sleep is very important to help those muscles recover and get healthy again.  If you are looking to improve performance getting the proper amount of sleep every night can be crucial to keeping your performance at levels at which you want to be performing.    

If you are looking to have a healthier life and you related more to my nutrition tracking post and the points about wanting to look and feel better, then getting the proper amount of sleep can play a big role in how you are looking and feeling.  Another hormone that sleep has a close relationship with is cortisol.  Cortisol is a stress related hormone that rises and falls as our stress levels rise and fall.  We want our cortisol levels to be highest as we wake up and during the beginning portions of our days when we are most active and doing the most stuff.  As we ready ourselves for sleep our cortisol levels should be lowering.  High cortisol levels make it hard for our body to relax, and if we are not sleeping properly our sleep-wake cycle will be thrown off, which will make it hard for our bodies to regulate our cortisol levels properly.  When our cortisol levels are out of balance there are many biological problems that can arise, in particular there are metabolic and digestive issues.  Our body will have issues regulating our metabolism and cortisol is a sign for our body to store fat.  If we aren’t sleeping we are putting our bodies under unnecessary stress, thus raising our cortisol levels and telling our bodies to store body fat. 

So if you are trying to look and feel better and you are eating right and exercising, but still not getting the results you want, I suggest you take a look at your sleep patterns.  Are there multiple days in a row where you are thinking you slept great because you got 6 hours of sleep?  Are you putting a lot of stress on yourself, whether it is work, school, relationships, or even exercising?  Are you trying to make up for a bad night(nights) of sleep with large coffees with   double shots of espresso?  If you relate to these questions I want you to try to work on getting 8 good hours of sleep every night and see if there are changes to how you look and feel.  Some things that may help you get to sleep would be investing in black out curtains, a white noise machine, not sitting on your phone until you fall asleep, and avoid doing things besides sleeping in your bed(like for me I really need to stop doing my homework and other things like that in my bed).  Maybe try to read a book before you fall asleep, turn on the white noise machine, and turn off lights and make your room as dark and cool as you can.  You want to get a good, uninterrupted, 8 hours of sleep, and you should because your body does so many amazing things for you everyday, all day long(even while you sleep), so the least you can do is give your body 8 hours every night to relax and unwind and reboot.  Not to mention sleep is important to your mental health(Mental health might be my next post, depending on what I get inspired by this upcoming week)

Thanks for reading everyone! You are all awesome.  This was another long one, so thank you for sticking with me on this and reading through what I had to say.  Please comment if you have any questions or comment if you have a topic you would like me to talk about.